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DVD: Vintage Late-Night 'Fridays' Gets New Life
August 18, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 3 comments

In one fourth-wall breaking sketch from the 1980-82 ABC late-night sketch-comedy series Fridays, a youthful Michael Richards, decades before his glory as Kramer on Seinfeld, leans into the camera and explains to the audience, "Television sucks."

And in that sketch over 30 years ago, the comment had some legs, despite obvious gems of the day, such as St. Elsewhere and Hill Street Blues. It's hard to remember, with today's big, flat panel displays filled with great content like Mad Men and Orange is the New Black, that worthwhile stuff wasn't so available, or so routine.

Such experimenting with, and commenting on, TV's boundaries was what Fridays was all about — and what the sketch comedy show can be remembered for. (It certainly won't be for the pornstaches and mullets flown by many of the men shown in the live studio audiences.)

The bad-boy, Saturday Night Live-styled Fridays was launched when ABC saw the late-night money to be made from the young audiences gathered around the NBC original, only five years along at the time. Fridays lasted only two seasons, getting pushed out of its 11:30 slot by a Friday edition of Nightline in its second year. Shortly after, it was cancelled by ABC, in part because of complaining network affiliates in conservative markets flummoxed by the show's brash humor aimed at teens and twentysomethings — absurd bits about zombie diners, Muppets being bludgeoned for pelts, and blow-up nun dolls.

Looking back on the Shout! collection, entitled The Best of Fridays (sixteen 90-minute shows, edited down to 60 minutes each, on 4 DVDs) there are still reasons to watch, and notice. While the show suffered under the weight of such SNL copycat features as a fake news segment, it arguably beat the NBC original at its game at times, most notably when Andy Kaufman dropped out of a sketch on live air, refusing to continue and finally throwing a glass of water in Richards' face. (That sketch is included in the Best Of and was reenacted in the Kaufman biopic Man On the Moon in 1999.)

The scandal was hot news at the time, with ABC and Fridays producer John Moffit hinting it was staged. Kaufman returned the following week to apologize and also cop to the stunt, but then immediately resumed the prank, shouting and insisting the whole thing was real. At the time, that clouded any real resolution. For the DVD, Moffit unequivocally says, yes, the whole thing was by design.

Fridays launched Richards' career, particularly for his recurring "Battleboy" character, a bizarre, manic kid left to his own make-believe world of plastic army men, which he destroys to the sound effects of his own blood-curdling screams.

The late-night series also established Larry David in his misanthropic pose, and gave Larry Charles his first comedy writing gig. Charles would go on to write and direct for David and Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld, David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, and for Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat.

The DVD reprises Fridays commitment to cutting-edge bands like Devo and The Clash (The Clash are shown in their first-ever U.S. appearance), as well as eye-opening moments worth revisiting. "Women Who Spit," done by Maryedith Burrell, Brandis Kemp and Melanie Chartoff, features a panel discussion by three otherwise well-mannered women who decide to take up spitting as another way of gaining equal ground with men.

There's also the macabre yet hilarious "A Chicken's Life," Bruce Mahler's bit about a lonely, down-and-out pianist who does opera with a formally dressed chicken taken out of the refrigerator.

"Women Who Spit" was reportedly one of the early sketches that started tipping the scales against the show with ABC affiliates. That's discussed on the bonus CD in a writers and performers reunion.

Conspicuously, the one missing cast member for that reunion is David. With the Shout! DVD, Fridays can now rightfully join SCTV, Monty Python, In Living Color, Chappelle's Show and MTV's The State as one of the worthwhile, daring moments in youth-oriented sketch-comedy TV. It would have been fitting to have had David — one of today's kings and one of the Fridays pioneers — along to help place Fridays up on the shelf alongside its ground-breaking comedy cousins.

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I do not know if it is on the DVD but Fridays did a spot on satire of the Rocky Horror Show. It also had a distinctly LA vibe. I remember it being a pretty good ripoff of SNL and deserved a better fate.
Aug 20, 2013   |  Reply
Paul - That was the "Ronnie Horror Picture Show" with John Roarke, the Fridays resident impressionist as Ronald Reagan... despite being saddled with a bunch of SNL knock-off features by ABC executives, Fridays managed its own vibe, when given the chance. All good stuff on the DVDs. –EG
Aug 20, 2013
K - Remarkable how fresh some of the stuff still is. Blankenfield's bit as the hunchback, S1, EP 1 is a work of art. It's also VERY interesting to see LD's early misanthropy as his main gig... he stretches it out in the Solly Mullins "temp" skits, although it would have been great to have had the "Temp Beatle" sketch - Solly substituting in the John Lennon role with the real cast of Beatlemania. Probably too costly for the rights on that one. It was pretty jaw-dropping at the time, especially just a year after Lennon's assassination. –EG
Aug 19, 2013   |  Reply
Dave - Here is a very low res video of the sketch:


You can see the David/Solly Mullins misanthropic schtick in full gear... pre-Seinfeld. –EG
Sep 18, 2013
I've heard mention of the skit with LD as the Temp Beatle. Was there Beatles music played or sung in the skit? If not, I don't think they would have to secure any rights... I hope to see this skit someday as the other Solly Mullens skits I have seen are quite funny!
Sep 17, 2013
i have the fridays dvds. about half way through them including the kaufman episode. staged or not staged? could go either way.

overall, very funny stuff. blankfield as the pharmacist is hilarious. chartoff was hot. burell doing the 'on-the-scene' reporting during chartoff's fake news was hilarious. richards is very funny as the kid playing with army men. mahler and david as the rabbis was pretty good, too. roarke did very good impressions of ronald reagan and woody allen. always wondered what became of roarke and blankfield....................
Aug 19, 2013   |  Reply
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